By Mike Max

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Volleyball has long been part of the high school menu, but boys teams have been established in recent years – hoping to someday be sponsored by the Minnesota High School League.

In year two, they are off to quite a start to do just that.

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“We’ve doubled in size. We started actually at 22 schools last year – we’re at 50 this year, 50 pure schools. If we counted our cooperatives with kids playing together, we’re at 70 schools represented here,” said Jenny Kilkelly, Minnesota Boys Volleyball co-director.

So on the final day of the season, there is a sense of pride. One young man has stopped by to say thank you.

(credit: CBS)

“Very powerful, very, very powerful. I was taken back by it and it brought tears to my eyes because that’s why we’re here, that’s what we’re here to do,” said Krista Flemming, co-director of Minnesota Boys Volleyball. “We’re here to bring people together, we’re here to get kids the opportunity to play more things and reach out to some of those kids that don’t always have that opportunity.”

St. Paul Harding is the championship game. They’ve found a calling on the east side.

“There is a lot of interest and ability in volleyball in the community in the Harding area. East side of St. Paul has a volleyball tradition. I think there’s a lot of people that are rightfully very proud of volleyball,” Harding Coach Larry Shelley said.

Most of his team comes from the Hmong community. This day represents opportunity.

“This is a big sport in the Hmong community. We all have tournaments all around us and we never really got to compete,” said Doua Neng, a Harding Boys Volleyball player.

Yes, they come from different backgrounds.

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“I’ve been playing volleyball for about five years,” said Tommy Kelly, who plays for Andover. “I started with club at Minnesota Select and then when I found out there was going to be a high school team in season at my school, I was really excited and this season has been amazing.”

There is competition, but it’s also a celebration that their sport is moving in the right direction.

“We had 400 boys last year and we have doubled – we have 800 boys playing this year,” Kilkelly said.

With that, they see leaps in the level of play.

“I look at the teams that are here in the tournaments this year and there’s some excellent players and excellent play. It has really been fun to be a part of,” Shelley said.

And more importantly, more kids are getting their chance to participate in what might be their sport.

“We have lots and lots of boys who are playing a sport for their schools that have never had that opportunity before because volleyball is really important to their communities and we’re seeing players that aren’t baseball players, aren’t football players – they’re volleyball players,” Kilkelly said.

And what you have are the seeds growing into something at a rate beyond what they anticipated.

“It’s been very surreal. We thought about this a long, long time ago and never thought that it would ever come to be in fruition. And as we sat and worked through all the details that we had going on the last few weeks, coming here and being here today – it’s just heartwarming,” Flemming said.

All because some people came up with an idea – one they hope will soon be just any other sport sponsored by the Minnesota State High School League.

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“We’re excited about it and we’re ready for when they are ready for us to be sanctioned. It’s ready to be handed over or in partnership – we’d like to work with them on it – and we’re hoping that happens,” Kilkelly said. “We’d love to have it happen sooner than later.”

Mike Max